Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stir-Fried Chili Scallops with Baby Bok Choy Adapted from Fine Cooking

When I wrote about our culinary adventures in St. Barthelemy, FWI in March, one of our readers, “Mike”, got into a spirited discussion about how the scallops I’d waxed poetic over, were not local.  In fact, he was pretty irate about seafood in general and posted as a comment:  “Why the lack of eating local seafood?  Scallops multiple times mentioned (frozen and cryovaced from America) really as a good can it be?" Now “Mike” is a Massachusetts native and his knowledge of seafood is impressive.  In a subsequent comment, he explained: “ Scallops do not freeze well…they shrivel and such...and because of that the frozen ones are not "dry" scallops, they are the ones that have that phosphate solution added to them to plump them up and make them hold water and look better after they defrost.” All that being said, I still loved my St. Barth’s scallops.  And when we got home and I came across a recipe for a Stir Fry with scallops, I couldn't wait to get my hands on some fresh scallops.
Scallop Fishing, one of the great
North Atlantic seafood management
Years ago, in Indiana, I’d asked a waitress if her fish were fresh.  She was insistent they were ‘fresh frozen”, a phrase that’s stuck with me for the clever way around the fact that yes, the fish had been frozen.  But it had undergone its freezing while fresh.  Some very clever copywriting there, I must say!   So armed with my new scallop knowledge, I quizzed the man behind the counter at our local fishmonger.  He seemed almost hurt by my questions.  The scallop, he informed me is one of the great success stories in Atlantic Ocean fishing.  And if I didn’t believe him, he suggested going to and seeing for myself, which I did.
The Scallop's Filter Feeder at work
The Scallops range is from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland all the way down to Cape Hatteras, N.C.   Like most Atlantic fishing these days, management of fishing stocks has been closely controlled. And those controls have been a whopping success.  Where stocks were depleted by over-fishing, they’ve been restored.  Where shortages still exist, those areas are protected.  The vast majority of scallops sold on the East Coast are wild caught.  And they’re one of the few instances where farmed fish are considered actually better for the environment than their wild caught counterparts.  Because scallops are “filter feeders’, they live on tiny particles filtered out of seawater. This filtration actually helps improve water quality and clarity.  So armed with my wild-caught, unquestionably fresh and robustly size scallops I went home to prepare this glorious stir-fry. 
Scallops are often described as being sweet.  So they form a perfect foil here for the spicy additions of Asian flavors from bean sauce and ginger, salty soy sauce and fragrant fresh garlic.  The recipe also calls for baby bok choy.  Now Bok Choy runs from 3 to 8 inches in height so what constitutes ‘baby’ bok choy may be subject to discussion.  What I noticed at my local Trader Joe’s where bok choy is a staple is that the most recent offerings have all included tiny little bok choy.  That is what you should work with here. It’s only stir-fried for all of two minutes so you want to use the smallest vegetables you can find. As with all stir-fries, get absolutely everything laid out before you start cooking.   This recipe was advertised as being for 2-3 people or 4-6 if it was part of a multi-dish Asian meal.  I’d say make it for to 2 people or risk the wrath of 4 to 6 people who would certainly clamor for more.
Here is the recipe:

Stir-Fried Chili Scallops with Baby Bok Choy
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine  
Serves 2.  Takes 30 minutes start to finish.

12 oz. medium fresh sea scallops
2 Tbs. chicken broth
1 Tbs. Asian bean sauce
1 Tbs. Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce  
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbs. peanut or vegetable oil
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
8 small baby bok choy, trimmed and halved length-wise (about 4 cups)
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup chopped scallions

Rinse the scallops under cold water, removing the muscle and any visible bits of shell or grit, and set on paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the scallops dry. Cut the scallops horizontally in half so that all the pieces are about 1/2 inch thick. In a small bowl combine the broth, chili bean sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 Tbs. of the oil, add the ginger and garlic, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Push the aromatics to the sides of the wok. Carefully add the scallops and spread them evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the scallops begin to sear. Sprinkle on 1/4 tsp. of the salt and stir-fry 30 seconds or until the scallops are opaque but not cooked through. Transfer the scallops to a plate.
Swirl the remaining 1 Tbs. oil into the wok, add the bok choy and bell peppers, sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the bok choy just begins to turn bright green. Return the scallops with any juices that have accumulated to the wok. Restir the broth mixture, swirl it into the wok, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the scallops are just cooked. Stir in the scallions.


  1. Whats not to love about stir fried scallops? I could devour all of that right now! Great recipe and thanks for sharing this:)

    1. Thanks Jerry, this is a delicious way to devour them!

  2. The meal looks fabulous, anything on the lighter side seems to be what we are leaning towards lately. Oh, and fabulous link on! Other than offending Mike and the local fishmonger, lol,onward and upward! This is one for our rainy tomorrow. Today, Star Trek. Tx Monte!

    1. Ana, you will adore this if you like a little heat along with the sweetness of the scallops. So glad you got the Seafood Watch link. Everytime I want to use seafood, I go there to see if what I want to use is sustainable. Sad to say an awful lot of seafood isn't!

  3. Lovely work! Would you be happy to link it in to the current Food on Friday which is all about scallops? This is the link . There are 40 great links there already. I do hope to see you there. Cheers

  4. Delighted to oblige and have done so! Thanks Carole!

    1. Monte, thanks for adding to the collection - I've put the recipe title in for you, no worries. I have also signed up to follow you and hope you will follow Carole's chatter too. CHeers